Bobby Cannavale, dressed in a crisp, dark suit, stops to button his jacket as he enters the swank 21 Club in midtown Manhattan. He’s here to chat about his latest movie, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (you know, the one that should win Cate Blanchett an Oscar). But he only has a few minutes before he’s due on the set of Will Gluck’s Annie, where he’s starring opposite Quvenzhane Wallis as an advisor to Jamie Foxx’s Daddy Warbucks. But that’s just Bobby – he’s used to being busy. With another movie (Brother’s Keeper) starting next month and following his Emmy win for Boardwalk Empire, he’s the toast of the town. So Rolling Stone tracked down the New Jersey native to learn more about life with Woody Allen. And here, with a smile that charms and a presence that intimidates, it’s no wonder that Hollywood’s sizing him up.
How did you learn you got the part in Blue Jasmine?
To this day, I don’t know how Woody Allen knows me. My agent just called one day and told me that he wanted to meet for lunch. Everybody was telling me, ‘He’s not going to look you in the eyes.’ And when I walked into his office, somebody even told me I didn’t need to take my coat off, because who knows how long the meeting is going to last. So I was really intimidated. And the first thing he said was, “So can you shoot?” and I said “Yes!” I hadn’t asked for the time off of Boardwalk Empire yet, so I went back and luckily Terry Winter said, “We’re going to get you out of here anyway.”
There wasn’t any audition or testing?
Not really. He just knew he wanted the guy to be big, so he kept grabbing my shoulders and saying, “Oh you’re big. You’re big. You’re a big guy.” I felt like cattle being inspected. Then he just says, “Can you give me three weeks in August?”
Did you hear any Woody Allen stories before the shoot started?
I watched Robert Weide’s documentary about him. And I’d heard all kinds of stories, too – people having horrible experiences, others having the best experiences of their lives. But he was perfectly nice to me.
So it’s easy shooting with him?
It was terrifying! He’s not about giving compliments. The biggest compliment that he gives is when he doesn’t say you’re doing something wrong. If he leaves the room, then you know you’ve got it.
Did you enjoy it?
You never know if you’re going to have that opportunity again. So I was stalking him on set. Honestly. I think that he noticed, too. I was there when I didn’t need to be. I would take my chair and move it closer to his. Sometimes he would look back startled and say, “Oh, you’re still here?” Of course I was! I was learning everything I could. He even taught me some of his little tricks. He has this trick he does with a quarter where he plays with it in his fingers. . .
How are you enjoying Annie?
I’ve always wanted to do a musical. I’d been rehearsing this big dance scene with Cameron Diaz since September and we finally shot it a couple weeks ago. Every film I try to do something that I’ve never done before. It’s tough in this business, you know? People see you do something they like and then they just want to see you do it over and over again. That’s why I did this movie.
And is Jamie Foxx really the showman everyone makes him out to be?
Listen, Jamie Foxx could run for mayor if he felt like it. He’s the funniest guy – that guy can mimic anybody.
What’s his go-to impression?
He does a great Barack Obama, a great Tom Cruise, and man, does he have a Kanye West impression in the bag. He even did an impression of a mouse the other day. I told him that I’d seen a mouse in my house, and he was immediately like, “Did he do one of these?” And it was the best impression of a mouse I’ve ever seen – I didn’t even know that was a thing. I died.